Suzanne Clothier has this great quote, “If you are hanging on to your dog’s body, it’s because you’ve lost his mind”. I love this quote because it is transferrable to so many aspects of dog training. Can you say that your dog is well-trained if they only listen to you when they are attached to you? If they sit when you tug on their leash or put pressure on their hind end or get them to stop pulling because you give them a leash correction. Are they trained or are they complying because they want to avoid the pain of a correction? You might argue that they are trained because they are doing what you ask of them and you may be right. The real test is when there is no leash or when your dog is too far away to physically correct. Then what? Are they still trained? It is more difficult to argue that they are in this scenario.
For me, the sign of a well-trained dog is a dog that listens to me. He doesn’t have to be engaged with me all the time, but when I say his name he looks to me seeking further instructions. This can only come through training that builds a relationship. I don’t want or need my dogs to be perfect. I love my dogs for who they are and want them to be dogs. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t rules and boundaries. Instead of being a dictator, I prefer to be the benevolent leader. Coaching and guiding them. If my dogs aren’t responding to me, it is not their fault. The fault resides with me.
People have very high expectations of their dogs, way higher than they have of themselves. They give themselves a pass on all sorts of behaviours and yet are so harsh on their dogs for the equivalent. They expect a dog to know the rules, speak English or whatever language they speak, don’t do behaviours that are completely normal for dogs to do. They expect dogs not to counter surf even though we have left something delicious up there in their reach or jump on the furniture even though it is a wonderfully soft place to nap. We label them as ‘dominant’ and we need to do more to be the ‘pack leader’. All of this is rubbish. We dictate every aspect of our dog’s lives. We set their feeding schedule. We choose what to feed them. We tell them when they can go out for a walk and where they can go for a walk. For heaven’s sake, we even tell them when and where to go to the bathroom. And we have the audacity to label them as being dominant. The concept is so ridiculous and yet, how often do we hear it.
When I reach for my dog I don’t want them to flinch because they fear my touch. I want them to listen to me and do what I ask because we have a great relationship. A relationship built on mutual respect and trust.